Get smart with money books

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 23, 2009 1:35pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There are some really good personal finance books on the shelves these days -- volumes that can help you manage your money better, earn more on your investments, or plan a good retirement. But those books are surrounded by dozens of others that are less good -- so choosing the right one becomes the key to success.

A good money book is a great gift for yourself, especially if you've received any book-store gift cards during the holiday season. If not, try your local library.

Here's an admittedly idiosyncratic roundup of some of the best of the current crop:

"Making the Most of Your Money" by Jane Bryant Quinn (Simon & Schuster, $35). At 1,242 pages, this hardcover isn't just a financial book, it's a fitness book, too. Do 10 reps lifting it over your head and you'll build muscle. Read 10 pages, at random, anywhere in the book, and you'll learn something smart about how to handle your finances. Quinn is, of course, the queen of personal finance writing and this newly updated classic covers everything from credit scores to interest rates to tuition to bond mutual funds. The advice is wise and consumerist, and you can use it like the encyclopedia that it is.

"10,000 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget" by the writers of Wise Bread (Skyhorse Publishing, $14.95), is a nice hands-on book for how to save money on everyday life. Wise Bread (www.wisebread.com) is a frugal living website and this books includes lots of specific resources and tips on items like inexpensive romantic dates, cheap dinners, free health care and travel deals. It's a little less specific and more generic in its sections on investing. Alas, the publisher may have gone too far down the bargain route itself by having the book printed cheaply in China. Though attractively laid out, the volume has a stiff spine and is difficult to hold open.

"Stop Getting Ripped Off" by Bob Sullivan (Ballentine books, $15). Sullivan blogs the "Red Tape Chronicles" for MSNB (redtape.msnbc.com/) and he's a wonderful pro-consumer storyteller. This book tackles banks, insurance companies, cell phone services and more. Learn the questions to ask and the deals to cut so you can stop being a patsy.

"Your Money Ratios" By Charles Farrell (Avery, $26). Why not manage your family finances as you would a business? Farrell is a money manager who makes a convincing argument for that approach. He uses ratios more common in the business world, such as the debt-to-equity ratio and the capital to income ratio so that readers can figure out how they are really doing. The book is direct and numbers-focused, and offers answers to questions like "How much should I be saving?" and "How much insurance do I need?"

"Financial First Aid Kit 2009" by Nolo Press (Nolo, $24.79) is a collection of books and tools on DVDs. But it includes several of Nolo's best-selling volumes including "Credit Repair" and "The Busy Family's Guide to Money." Nolo (www.nolo.com) is a leader in self-help legal books, for good reason. Its books and tools are clearly written by attorneys who are comfortable with simple English, so you can follow directions through a home purchase or divorce, setting up a business, or any number of other financial and legal situations. Most include worksheets or fill-in-the-blanks legal forms, too. Browse the site for the book which best fits your needs.

"I Will Teach You To Be Rich" by Ramit Sethi (Workman Publishing, $13.95). Sethi started as a 20-something blogger (www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/) and this book collects the best of his youth-oriented simple and smart advice. How to start and automate investing, save money on the big things like cars and weddings, beat the credit card companies at their own game. Little, boxy tips and charts make it easy to read, understand and use.

"The Smartest Retirement Book You'll Ever Read" by Daniel R. Solin (Perigree, $21.95). Okay, maybe the title oversells this book a little bit. But it's a decent introduction to the many issues retirees and near-retirees will have to face. Every chapter is only about two pages long and concludes with a bottom-line bit of advice. It covers how to plan pension distributions and withdrawals, where to get investment advice, how to manage reverse mortgages, annuities, long-term care, estate planning and more. After reading this, you might have to do more research to glean details on the individual topics covered, but this is a smart way to get started.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson)